Association of Prisoners - practical steps forward

After a year of discussion, the Association of Prisoners (AOP) has launched itself in a revised form and is asking for support.

When the AOP was first founded the Prison Service accepted that it couldn’t stop it happening; however it then put out Prison Service Order (PSO) 4480, which tells governors that they can ignore us and that we cannot have a national association because prisoners apparently don’t have enough common interests. We don’t care what they say. Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) says we can have an association and so we will. We have written to the director general to tell him that we are going national, recruiting members and encouraging prisoners to set up branches in their prisons. The idea that prisoners don’t have common interests is barking mad. Whilst prisoners come in all shapes, sizes, colours, creeds etc, we all share common burdens. We are all prisoners. They don’t get to decide if prisoners have common interests – prisoners get to decide that. They cannot stop cons organising; that is the law – if they ban us then they will face the legal consequences.

Setting up the union in your prison

In each prison one person needs to get to the library and read Article 11 of the ECHR and the PSO. Then write to your governor, informing him or her you are setting up a Prisoners Representative Association. Ask how s/he intends to facilitate the Association. You will need to be able to communicate with people on other wings, put up notices and hold meetings and elections.

Once you have informed the governor, someone on each wing needs to go door-to-door asking people if they would like to join the Association, put themselves up for election as a local leader, and vote for the local leadership. Next you need to come up with a list of issues you wish to campaign about. Whilst there is a national list of campaign issues, it is important that local branches identify their own as well.

AOP campaign aims

Strategic

  • End imprisonment as a solution to social problems.
  • Stop imprisoning people who have not committed violent or sexual offences.
  • Stop imprisoning people with mental health problems.
  • Institute restorative justice, addressing the needs of both criminals and victims, recognising that both are part of the wider community.
  • Stop sentencing people for what they may do in the future, ie IPP and life sentences.

Policy

  • Influence prison regimes in order to reduce the harm they cause.
  • Campaign for prison regimes to operate with the lowest possible restrictions on personal freedom.
  • Hold a structural consultation process where the views of prisoners are reflected in outcomes. Prisoners must have a strong say in how they are treated.
  • Accept that the loss of liberty is the sole punishment so imprisonment must focus upon genuine rehabilitation. Education, training and maintenance of family involvement should be paramount.

Individual

  • End the use of prisoners’ labour by commercial companies for below minimum wages.
  • Every prisoner to be offered a place in employment, education or training.
  • End the commercial exploitation of prisoners, through inflated telephone prices, overpriced consumer goods etc.
  • End the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme.
  • Internal discipline hearings to be adjudicated by an independent person.
  • Remove the limit on private money that can be spent on telephones.
  • End forced psychological treatments for which there is no independent evidence of effectiveness.
  • All prisoners to be offered private family visits at least four times a year.

Ben Gunn

FRFI 216 August/September 2010

 

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